The Blue Jays front office has kept its public relations department busy issuing press releases. That’s what happens when you make two dozen player acquisitions since October.
Last offseason, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos and his staff traded manager John Farrell to the Red Sox and consummated a pair of blockbuster deals to import all-stars Mark Buehrle, R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes.
It’s a second transactional proclivity, though, that has piqued the interest of the industry. Since last Oct. 17, the Blue Jays have successfully claimed 20 players on outright waivers from other clubs, an average of one claim every nine days, for a rate that just might be unprecedented.
Of course, no club has 20 open roster spots to dedicate to waiver claims, though the Blue Jays have more room than most clubs (more on that later). In fact, just four of Toronto’s claimed players—righthander Todd Redmond, lefty Aaron Laffey and first basemen Mauro Gomez and Clint Robinson—remained on the 40-man roster.
Five others—righties Chad Beck, Tyson Brummett, Edgar Gonzalez and Mickey Storey and lefty Tommy Hottovy—remained with the organization, having reported to the minors after being designated for assignment and clearing waivers.
The Blue Jays lost seven other players they had claimed on waivers to subsequent claims by other teams. This occurred when Toronto attempted to remove those players from the 40-man roster, thus exposing them to waivers, in an attempt to stash them in the minors.
Righty Cory Wade and catcher Bobby Wilson skipped town as non-tender free agents last December, and the Blue Jays sold first baseman Lars Anderson to the White Sox and outfielder Casper Wells to the Athletics, accounting for all 20 waiver claims. (See table at the bottom of the story for a full listing.)
One reason for the elasticity of the Jays’ 40-man roster is they have five players on the 60-day disabled list, and those extended-stay DL players, such as Tommy John surgery alumni Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Luis Perez, do not count toward the 40-man roster limit. This effectively gives the Blue Jays a 45-man roster, and they’ve devoted many of those extra roster spots to scouting the waiver wire.
The Player’s Perspective
For the most part, players understand that changing teams via waiver claims is just a part of the business. When major league teams require space on the 40-man roster to add a new acquisition, they create room by designating another player for assignment. At some point during the following 10 days, the club must place the DFA’d player on outright waivers, where any other team can claim him (and assume his contract) for a $20,000 waiver fee. That’s a relative bargain when compared to the Rule 5 draft selection fee of $50,000.
In-season outright waivers run for 48 hours, and teams in both leagues, selecting in order of lowest winning percentage, have equal access to waived players. Based on their record last year (73-89), Toronto had the No. 9 waiver priority all offseason and through the first month of the 2013 season.
“Players are always excited when they’re claimed,” said the agent for one player the Blue Jays claimed in the past six months. “When you’re DFA’d, it can be a real roller-coaster ride. You’re not sure whether you’ll be outrighted to the minors, traded or claimed.
“There are different ways to look at it. Often the player is frustrated (that he was placed on waivers in the first place), but then you can also look at it another way. The claiming team likes him enough to claim him—and even if you go on waivers again there’s a chance to be claimed again. You can spin it as a positive.”
The agent said Anthopoulos made it clear upon claiming his client that with a fluid roster, the Blue Jays might turn around and DFA the player and expose him to waivers once more. “My understanding is that they’ve been up-front in their dealing with players,” the agent said.
Agent Matt Sosnick, who represents Scott Cousins, whom Toronto claimed last October and subsequently lost on waivers, put that sentiment in stronger terms: “I’d be very skeptical of somebody who said that Alex lied or misled them. I have a hard time believing that that’s the case.”
The outright waiver process exists to prevent clubs from hoarding big league-caliber talent in the minor leagues without first seeing if players removed from the 40-man roster can help one of the other 29 teams. Teams attempt to sneak players through waivers all the time, but nobody can remember a case where a club has been as active on the waiver wire as have the Blue Jays.
Since Toronto has run 16 of its 20 claims back through waivers, some front-office executives with other teams believe the Blue Jays are exploiting a loophole, one that should be closed to protect players from frivolous waiver claims. One executive even suggested that teams be required to keep players claimed on waivers on the 40-man roster for at least 30 days before being permitted to run the player through waivers again.
Another agent for a player claimed by Toronto isn’t so sure a problem exists.
“It’s one of those deals where if you have somebody who’s a bright GM, he’s going to find cost-efficient ways to acquire players and essentially stash them in the minors,” the agent said. “It’s not advantageous to player, certainly, but this is what clubs and agents do all the time—find creative loopholes to better their cause. Alex has done a great job at that.
“Whether it’s fair or not fair, you have to admire the Blue Jays’ creativity.”
The Blue Jays declined to comment for this story prior to its publication, but New York Times national writer Tyler Kepner indirectly quoted Anthopoulos as saying that a desire to build a winner at the organization’s new Triple-A Buffalo affiliate drives Toronto’s waiver-claim hyperactivity.
|PRO-SCOUT HEAD COUNT
|Major league organizations structure their pro scouting departments in various different ways. We try to make sense of all the job titles, using the 2013 Baseball America Directory as a guide. For this exercise, any scout listed as a professional (PRO), major league (MLB) or special-assignment (S-A) scout counts toward the total estimate. Only departments with 10 or more pro scouts are listed.|
While Gomez, Gonzalez and Storey all play for the Bisons, four other waiver claims who remain with the organization—Beck, Brummett, Hottovy and Robinson—all appear on the Double-A New Hampshire roster.
Waiver claims are only part of the picture, though. The Blue Jays signed more than 25 minor league free agents last offseason, including players such as righthander Justin Germano, lefty Alex Hinshaw, DH Luis Jimenez, outfielder Ryan Langerhans, third baseman Andy LaRoche and second baseman Jim Negrych, who all occupy key roles at Buffalo.
That Toronto would aggressively pursue talent on waivers and in minor league free agency comes as no surprise given its massive professional scouting department. Each of Toronto’s 15 full-time pro scouts sits on two rival organizations, seeing all its affiliates all season long and providing scouting info to the front office on players Toronto may want to sign or acquire in trade.
Those 15 pro scouts report to two crosscheckers and a senior adviser, bringing to 18 the total of Blue Jays scouts dedicated exclusively to the pro game.
This level of reach is uncommon. The major league average is about 10 full-time pro scouts, and only the Yankees employ as many full-time pro scouts as the Blue Jays. Toronto separates itself by also staffing four major league scouts and a special-assignment scout, according to the 2013 Baseball America Directory. (See table at right.)
More scouts equals more scouting reports, which makes for more informed—and in the case of the Blue Jays, more frequent—minor league player acquisitions, be they via trades, free agency or waiver claims.
“It’s not uncommon for us to have guys in 30 different parks on a given night,” said one rival club executive who takes an active role in pro scouting. “When we make waiver claims, we’re not expecting to make sizable upgrades. It’s more about trying to get better incrementally.”
|BLUE JAYS WAIVER CLAIMS
|A chronological listing of players claimed by the Blue Jays on outright waivers since October 2012. Toronto has had the No. 9 waiver priority during this period.|
|Oct. 17||OF Scott Cousins||Marlins||Lost on waivers to Mariners|
|Oct. 17||RHP Cory Wade||Yankees||Non-tendered; signed by Cubs|
|Oct. 18||RHP Tyson Brummett||Phillies||Outrighted to minors|
|Oct. 22||C Bobby Wilson||Angels||Non-tendered; signed by Yankees|
|Oct. 23||RHP David Herndon||Phillies||Lost on waivers to Yankees|
|Oct. 31||LHP Scott Maine||Indians||Lost on waivers to Marlins|
|Dec. 3||C Eli Whiteside||Yankees||Lost on waivers to Rangers|
|Dec. 19||RHP Mickey Storey||Astros||Outrighted to minors|
|Dec. 21||OF Russ Canzler||Indians||Lost on waivers to Indians|
|Jan. 4||RHP Chad Beck||Pirates||Outrighted to minors|
|Jan. 10||LHP Tommy Hottovy||Rangers||Outrighted to minors|
|Feb. 25||1B Lars Anderson||White Sox||Sold to White Sox|
|March 16||RHP Guillermo Moscoso||Royals||Lost on waivers to Cubs|
|March 22||RHP Todd Redmond||Orioles||40-man roster|
|March 29||RHP Alex Burnett||Twins||Lost on waivers to Orioles|
|March 29||1B Clint Robinson||Pirates||40-man roster|
|April 7||RHP Edgar Gonzalez||Astros||Outrighted to minors|
|April 8||1B Mauro Gomez||Red Sox||40-man roster|
|April 10||OF Casper Wells||Mariners||Sold to Athletics|
|April 23||LHP Aaron Laffey||Mets||40-man roster|